At least 21 killed in Syria as mass protest erupts close to Assad’s palace in Damascus


At least 21 people were killed during mass opposition protests in the Syria on Saturday, including one in the capital Damascus where a large demonstration was held close to the presidential palace.

The protest in Damascus broke out during a funeral procession held for three people killed by security forces on Friday.

An activist who witnessed the violence said the procession numbered around 15,000, the largest in the capital since the 11-month-old uprising against President Assad began. It took place in al-Maza neighborhood overlooking the presidential palace.

“It was a huge funeral that turned into a protest,” said the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “There was no fear among the participants.”

Amateur videos filmed by activists and posted online showed a crowd of people shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or God is great, and “One, one, one, the Syrian people are one!”

Maza is considered home to a fortified intelligence building where protesters are detained and tortured, and it has other places where the military intelligence has tortured soldiers who backtracked and rejected orders to shoot at civilian protesters. The tight-security area has various diplomatic headquarters and government institutions.

On Friday, anti-regime protests spread to al-Hamadiya neighborhood near al-Amawi mosque in Damascus, where dozens of people were killed.

Areas such as al-Qadar, al-Hajr al-Aswad, Kafr Sousa, al-Barza have all seen anti-regime protests.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Council for Civilian Protection said that crimes against humanity are being directed against Syrians and that self-defense is a legal right as well as defending public sectors.

The council said that there is increasing defection by the Syrian soldiers, and added that a group of defected soldiers announced the formation of the “Capital’s Martyrs” brigade.

On Saturday, the Syrian opposition said that more than 2,500 Syrian soldiers have defected, making the number the largest. In a Youtube video, the defected Syrian soldiers were shown swearing their allegiance to protect their country.

Diplomatic front

The fresh violence erupted during a visit by an envoy from China, which along with Russia recently supported Syria by vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Assad’s regime. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun called on all parties to stop violence that has killed more than 5,400 people since March of last year, according to the United Nations.

Tunisia, which hosted a first international conference on Syria in December and broke off ties with Damascus earlier this month, is hosting a “friends of Syria” conference next week, but Syrian opposition representatives are reportedly not invited to the event.

“There will certainly not be an official SNC representative” at the conference, Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesalem told reporters while recognizing that the topic had caused wide debate.

“Each thing in time,” the minister said, adding that he hoped to see the creation of an opposition group with “real representation.”

The SNC said last week recognition by the Arab League was imminent, though members did not specify the extent of recognition they expected.

Tunisia has invited members of the Arab League and the European Union, along with the United States, to attend the February 24 conference.

Abdesalem confirmed invitations were also sent to Russia and China, the two powers have that have gone furthest to defend the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.